How a Top Character Actor Lost 35 Pounds in a Month

Credit: Christopher Polk / NBC / Getty Images

Character actor Charles Halford plays an impressive range. Last year on HBO's True Detective he starred as murder-suspect and meth cook Reggie Ledoux. This fall on NBC's Constantine, he fights demons as Chas, sidekick to the show's hero John Constantine.

The six-foot-six actor is easily defined by his size — NBC calls him "the brawn" of its show — but he often drops or gains 15 or more pounds for a role, depending on the meth habits or action level of a character. In between Constantine shoots, Halford told us what it's like to stay healthy when your body's in a constant flux, how he bulks up as a vegan, and how he got into shape to play Reggie Ledoux.

What's it take to be the muscle on a primetime NBC show?
I suppose I’m naturally brawny by genetics and fortune. If I wear a plaid shirt people just expect me to have paper towels. I have a relatively strict vegan diet and stay active, but I can’t say that I have a serious workout routine.

I try to maintain an everyman body type. This serves my acting options and allows me to get better gains toward fit or fat as the roles require. When someone is in a hard workout routine, it's much harder to get out of shape easily. I rarely have more than a month to physically prepare for any role so I try to stay in a place physically, that with modest effort either way (junk food or gym), I can embody the character. 

You make it sound easy. How about your transformation into Reggie Ledoux?
When I was trying to get in “meth shape" for True Detective I would go on these 10- to 20-mile walks around Los Angeles with 30 or more pounds of weight on my back while carrying a 10-pound medicine ball. I got a lot of stares, but I also got to reciprocate some scowls I’d been practicing. 

Long, weighted walks, where did that routine come from?
With methamphetamine, body fat gets eaten up by the drug. I've seen first hand — several people I knew — whose appearance was drastically changed by that horrible drug. So,I wanted to lose the jiggly bits from my body but not look fit and healthy. I was carrying about 15 extra pounds from a little indie film, Flutter, and had to go down 35 pounds for True Detective.   

How does one maintain "everyman" form?
When I'm working, a few hours here and there if I'm lucky. Some of our days can run 16 or more hours including travel. Sometimes we work from sun up to sun down, or sun down to sun up. It changes daily. Actors don't have the luxury of losing energy, getting sloppy with fatigue, or getting sick, so a lot of the job is energy management. It's near impossible to hold a proper schedule, for sleep, or laundry, or whatever else, while in production. During an off season, I'll dedicate anywhere from five to 15 hours a week to physical activity. 

What about when you're bulking back up?
When I get to a gym, I'll binge on weights for a solid two to three hours. Then for recovery I really love Vega brand nutrition. They use super foods and whole foods, and limit the use of soy protein isolate. 

Depending on the build I’m trying to achieve, I’ll also use vegan creatine and L-Carnitine complimented flax oil. Beyond supplementing I’m a huge advocate of cold-pressed juice for almost any occasion. There are just so many benefits to the naturally occurring nutrients you can absorb in a tasty glass of fresh pressed fruit and vegetables

As a vegan, do you ever have trouble eating enough protein?
There’s protein in every solid food, right? Protein is everywhere, and I eat a lot of everything vegan throughout the day. The guys on set have taken to calling me "brontosaurus." Fair enough.

So what’s your diet look like?
I’ve always wanted a tee shirt that reads “Body By Beans.” Beans and nuts are big part. I have been vegan now over 15 years, vegetarian for more than 20. I’ve run the gambit of healthy and unhealthy diets, because it is very possible to be an unhealthy vegan or vegetarian. 

Today, I try to stick to raw foods, natural, real, and whole foods. I don’t think food should be processed. It gets processed inside our body, that is by design. In terms of my diet, I mix it up and I’m never bored. I also put hot chilies on everything, whenever possible. 

Do you have a favorite bean dish you want to share with us then?
One of the primary staple dishes in my diet for the past seven years has been a red kidney bean salad. It's epic. I like it really spicy, hence the chilies, but it's pretty adaptable to anyone's taste. As long as you like beans. 

Mix red beans, julienned bell peppers, green onion, red onion, and hot chilies — I like habanero. Add diced cilantro to taste. Then toss it all with a little olive oil, red wine vinegar and dash ofsalt and pepper. Top it with sprouted sunflower seeds and a drizzle of fresh coconut milk. 

Finally, is True Detective's Reggie Ledoux the most terrifying character you've played?
I think that is a fair statement. A rather bad apple, Reggie. But to be fair, my teenage years were no walk in the park. Just ask my mother.